University of Leeds AFM Facility

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy

Abstract

This funding provides a dedicated facility manager for the atomic force microscope (AFM) facility situated within the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds. The two year grant will enable us to recruit a technical specialist in the applications of AFM after which this experimental officer post will be sustainably funded through consolidation of existing research projects and pump priming of new collaborations. The high quality science that this facility generates across a wide range of different research fields will allow us to recover the true costs of operating the facility via a combination of grant funding and industrial collaboration. The role of the facility manager will be to oversee the efficient day-to-day running of the suite of seven state-of-the-art AFMs.

AFM is a versatile high resolution surface scanning microscopy that can produce topographical and mechanical maps for a wide range of hard and soft materials. It uses a sharp probe, nanometres in radius, to scan across surfaces to produce images with resolution down to the atomic scale. The probe is mounted on a force sensing flexible cantilever spring that can measure the mechanics of materials and molecules to sub-piconewton accuracy. AFM can operate in vacuum, liquid and air environments making it highly suited as an analytical technique for studying a wide range of materials under different conditions. The facility contains instruments that are optimised for high resolution imaging, sensitive and accurate force measurement, high throughput and high speed imaging and a new combined instrument platform integrating AFM with advanced optical microscopy techniques.

The versatility of AFM means it is a critical instrument to enable high quality nanoscience, nanotechnology, soft condensed matter, advanced and functional materials research. Examples of collaborative interdisciplinary research carried out in the facility include: magnetic nanostructures, magnetic spin-ice, skyrmions, crystallisation, synthetic polymers, biomembranes, food nanomechanics, single biomolecule mechanics, therapeutic microbubbles, DNA origami nanostructures, nanoparticles, anti-cancer peptides and biomaterials. These topics relate to research and development of applications within: data storage, data integrity, green energy generation, energy storage, oil recovery, drug delivery, drug formulation, catalysis, biomineralization, anti-cancer agents, hydrogels, tissue engineering, food science and textile development.
We expect the new post to augment impact of UK science within Physics, Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Electronic Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Biomedicine, Biological Sciences, Earth and Environment, Food Sciences and Dentistry.
Current research from the facility falls within the EPSRC themes of Physical Science, Engineering, Manufacturing the Future and Healthcare Technologies. Specific research areas include: Biophysics and soft matter, biomaterials and tissue engineering, magnetism and magnetic materials, spintronics, polymer materials, particle technology, surface science and synthetic biology. The multi-disciplinary research relates to Grand Challenges in: Physics of Life, Physics far from Equilibrium, Nanoscale design of functional materials and Healthcare technologies - developing future therapies. The activities that the facility supports align with the EPSRC Balancing Capabilities strategy since it covers such abroad range of research within the Physical Sciences and Engineering, producing high impact research of societal importance.

Twenty-first century society will be built on understanding and controlling material down to the nanometre scale. AFM is a key tool for characterising and manipulating materials at the nanoscale, be they natural, bioinspired or synthesised. The Leeds AFM facility can make a significant impact across a wide range of important scientific challenges.

Planned Impact

The pump priming of a dedicated facility manager (FM) will maximise usage of instrumentation in the Leeds AFM facility, maintain equipment, train new users and actively promote the facility with far more efficiency and efficacy than the current increasingly time limited academic applicants, SDC and NHT. This will impact four constituencies. Firstly, there will be direct and timely support for the very wide range of research that is currently underway, by School of Physics and Astronomy academics, and the groups they collaborate with in the Schools of Chemistry, Food Sciences, Chemical, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, and Faculties of Biological Sciences and Medicine (see Case For Support). Secondly, new collaborations are being generated at an ever increasing rate from the four EPSRC CDTs making use of AFM Facility, namely CP3, SOFI, MSE and TERM, and recent enquiries from a fifth, the iT-CDT (Integrated Tribology). This large number of new users requires close support in the initial stages of a project. The third area is industry, which has also grown from a trickle in the last 10 years to a flood in the last 2, with ongoing projects with PepsiCo International, Pfizer, Syngenta, Johnson Matthey, and smaller more preliminary projects with P&G, Merck and Astra-Zeneca. These projects are either funded directly at 100% FEC via PDRA's, or as 50% funded PhD project studentships through the CDT's. A further route has developed in the last year through consultancy, and the previous encumbering legal and financial issues surrounding IP, NDA's and contracts have now been solved, the process is well understood. The charge for consultancy can be paid directly into the Facility account and help fund the Facility Manager. Finally, the facility manager will take the major day-to-day load from SDC, allowing him to pursue new projects, and concentrate on lending expert advice where it is needed, providing solutions to industry, and to other academics who do not realise how much AFM could assist their research.

All seven existing instruments are state-of-the-art, having a capital value of £1.9M, and allied to the experience of the two applicants (and their long term collaborators) in developing and applying new techniques, create a facility that whilst currently recognised as a major centre for AFM in the UK (as recognised by the number of national conferences we have hosted, and will host in 2018), could easily grow to be internationally leading. This would impact very positively on the University of Leeds which also houses a vast range of new top-specification electron microscope, including two FEI Titan Krios Cryo-TEM's. In two year's time this advanced microscopy instrumentation will be co-located in the basement of the new Physics/Bragg centre alongside the AFM Facility (in custom built low noise and thermally stable laboratories), which should lead to many new opportunities and synergies. Our instruments form a complementary suite of AFM functionality that spans across the EPSRC remit, from hard to soft condensed matter research. The newest addition is a combined confocal optical/AFM platform to be installed in March 2018 which will greatly increase our research capability. This correlative system is unique to the UK with only one other system currently in Europe. Possessing a Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscope (FLIM) is relatively unusual in itself, but combined with the ultra-high resolution of AFM with ability to measure the same pixel simultaneously with the optical, will create an incredibly powerful system that should be world beating. The Facility is located in a wider Physics department that has Soft Matter as a major speciality, covered by two experimental groups Soft Matter Physics (SMP) and Molecular and Nanoscale Physics (MNP), both exceptionally well equipped for the characterisation of soft matter.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Fibrin at the Interface of Bleeding, Thrombosis and Tissue repair
Amount £1,323,069 (GBP)
Funding ID RG/18/11/34036 
Organisation British Heart Foundation (BHF) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 12/2023
 
Description High-Speed and High-Resolution Imaging Facility
Amount £750,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Wolfson Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2021 
 
Description INFORM 2020 - Molecules to Manufacture: Processing and Formulation Engineering of Inhalable Nanoaggregates and Microparticles
Amount £1,925,568 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N025075/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2016 
End 03/2021
 
Description Multiscale structural basis of photoprotection in plant light-harvesting proteins
Amount £344,240 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/T000023/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2019 
End 09/2022
 
Title Mobile surface lipid bilayers 
Description Development of new method to achieve optical scale phase separation and mobility of lipid phase separated domains in Surface Lipid Bilayers (SLBs), allowing for the first time the study of complex multi component bilayers containing membrane proteins of interest with multiple fluoresence lifetime reporting fluorophores, FCS, and correlative high-resolution AFM. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Unlocks a bottleneck on an enormous range of research possibilities, opening the possibility of doing optical microscopy based methods on a system that was previously invisible. 
 
Title Nanofibre manipulation 
Description Development of new method to manipulate and measure single nanofibres using Nanolithography package on correlative JPK Nanowizard and PicoQuant Microtime 200 system together with high quality confocal imaging of fluorescently labelled fibres, with FRET labelling to reveal which domains are stretching in bio-fibres. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This ability can be translated to the study of mechanics of other nanofibres such as cellular microfibrils. 
URL https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.2103226118
 
Title Nanomechanical properties of brittle-friable materials 
Description Advances have been made in performing force-distance nanoindentation measurements on friable materials that are brittle but weak. The technique itself is an adaptation of standard AFM force microscopy, using calibrated probes with known cross-sectional area. The data/curves produced are a challenge to analyse, and are characterised by so-called "load drop" events where the material yield stress is overcome and the material crumbles or fractures, rather than gradually yield with plastic deformation. Thuss very deep indentation can occur, and bespoke software was written to analyse the data. This technique was developed to measure the properties of meteroids and pyrolysed rock samples that contain organic material. It was then applied to the study of drug crystal agglomerates used in inhalable pharmaceutical formulations in order to understand their mechanical behaviour. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact It is currently in use in two projects and publications are already in advanced preparation 
 
Title Quantitative soft friction at the nanoscale 
Description The understanding of friction between soft interfaces at the micro- and nano- level is poorly understood, but of great relevance. Biology, and biotechnology rely on the interaction of biological surfaces and these are invariably soft, and deformable, so control and measurement of contact area and hence deformation is key. We have developed the first fully quantitative device capable of measuring these forces, based around an Atomic Force Microscope in Friction Force Mode (FFM), we attach a colloidal sized spherical particle manufactured in our laboratory made of a cross-linked polymer of controllable modulus and control;able size. Thus we have a microscopic tribomter capable of measuring soft-soft nano-contacts. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact One paper published so far on the technique and proof of operation. https://doi.org/10.1039/D0NR06527G https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlepdf/2021/nr/d0nr06527g Friction between soft contacts at nanoscale on uncoated and protein-coated surfaces Evangelos Liamas, a Simon D. Connell, Morfo Zembyla, Rammile Ettelaie and Anwesha Sarkar Nanoscale, 2021, 13, 2350 
URL https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlepdf/2021/nr/d0nr06527g
 
Description Antimicrobial polyelectrolytes 
Organisation Newcastle University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Characterisation of molecular film multilayers on electrospun PCL nanofibres. The nanofibrous material is biocompatible, and the films are polyelectrolytes derived from Manuka honey which has antimicrobial properties.AFM imaging allowed not only direct detection of this film, invisible to electron microscopy, we could measure the coverage and fit an absorption isotherm, determine the layer-by-layer groath mechanism, and visualise the molecular polymeric molecular arrangement in the polycaprolactone fibres to 1 nm resolution.
Collaborator Contribution The use of antibiotics has been the cornerstone to prevent bacterial infections; however, the emergency of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is still an open challenge. This work aimed to develop a delivery system for treating soft tissue infections for: (1) reducing the released antimicrobial amount, preventing drug-related systemic side effects; (2) rediscovering the beneficial effects of naturally derived agents; and (3) preserving the substrate functional properties. For the first time, Manuka honey (MH) was proposed as polyelectrolyte within the layer-by-layer assembly. Biomimetic electrospun poly(ecaprolactone) meshes were treated via layer-by-layer assembly to obtain a multilayered nanocoating, consisting of MH as polyanion and poly-(allylamine-hydrochloride) as polycation. Physicochemical characterization demonstrated the successful nanocoating formation. Different cell lines (human immortalized and primary skin fibroblasts, and primary endothelial cells) confirmed positively the membranes cytocompatibility, while bacterial tests using Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria demonstrated that the antimicrobial MH activity was dependent on the concentration used and strains tested.
Impact E Mancuso,C Tonda-Turo, C Ceresa, V Pensabene, SD Connell, L. Fracchia, P. Gentile. "Potential of Manuka Honey as a natural polyelectrolyte to develop biomimetic nanostructured meshes with antimicrobial properties". (2019) Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 7(344) 04 Dec 2019 talk at 11th World Biomaterials Congress 19-24/5/2019 Glasgow, Scotland
Start Year 2019
 
Description Johnson Matthey particle absprbtion 
Organisation Johnson Matthey
Department Johnson Matthey Catalysts
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution PI Dr David HArottle, co-I's Dr Simon Connell, Dr Nick Warren have engaged with Johnson Matthey for a PhD project (funded by iCASE) to study the absorption of particles to surfaces under static and flow conditions, as a function of environmental conditions, using both optical and AFM methods combined to cover length scales, and verify detail of optical signal of deposition using correlative optical AFM.
Collaborator Contribution Project supervision, provision of experimental samples.
Impact This collaboration is multidisciplinary involving chemistry, materials engineering and physics.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Pepsi flavour delivery 
Organisation PepsiCo
Department Nutrition Dept PepsiCo
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Dr Simon, Prof Anwesha Sarkar, Prof Brent Murray has engaged with PepsiCo for a PhD project via the EPSRC SOFI CDT to study a new class of edible materials and phases for the delivery of flavour compounds. This will make extensive use of the nanoscale characterisation capabilities provided by the AFM Facility and the expertise built-up in the understanding of the mechanics of soft materials.
Collaborator Contribution Project supervision, provision of experimental samples.
Impact This collaboration is multidisciplinary involving food science and physics.
Start Year 2022
 
Description Quorn Foods mycoprotein 
Organisation Quorn Foods Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Prof Brent Murray, Dr Simon Connell and Prof Anwesha Sarkar Dr. Simon Connell have engaged with Quorn Foods for a PhD project (funded by EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training Molecules to Products) to better understand the ultrastructure, mechanics and binding interactions of mycoprotein. The combined AFM/FLIM technology in the AFM Facility and support from the manager is an essential part of the project; it enables visualising fluorescently labelled regions of interest and discriminate components of the complex mixture at the micro-scale, and map mechanics to the nanometre scale.
Collaborator Contribution Project supervision, provision of experimental samples.
Impact This collaboration is multidisciplinary involving food science, microbiology and physics.
Start Year 2020
 
Description ZnO Quantum Dot thin films 
Organisation Brunel University London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Characterisation of spin coated thin films. Accurate depth measurements to a precision of 0.5 nm, as a function of rotational speed (500-5000rpm)
Collaborator Contribution Prof. P. Kathirgamanathan and Kumar Muttulingam (Dept. of Chemical engineering, Brunel University London · Wolfson Centre for Materials Processing). OLED/Quantum Dot display devices research.
Impact paper is currently being written and a talk has been submitted for an Innovate UK meeting.
Start Year 2019
 
Description combined AFM-FLIM microscopy study of bilayer membrane on stretched flexible PDMS 11-12/9/19 and 1 week in October 2019 
Organisation Durham University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Providing expertise and equipment in order to study the effect of stretching a lipid bilayer membrane on a flexible PDMS support, combinig AFM and fluoresence optical micropscopy in the same area. PhD student Rachel Goodband (PIs Dr Magarita Staykova and Prof Colin Bain).
Collaborator Contribution The PDMS device and the overall project, part of the PhD study by Rachel Goodband
Impact Successful imaging of the bilayer patch edge by both optical and AFM imaging, revealing the high resolution effect that was ambiguous in optical imaging.
Start Year 2019
 
Description NuNano's 'Women in AFM' campaign for November 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Feature on Dr Lekshmi Kaias, Facility Manager for the Leeds AFM Facility supported by this grant, in NuNano's 'Women in AFM' campaign for November 2021
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.nunano.com/women-in-afm-2/lekshmi-kailas
 
Description A plenary talk at RMS AFM SPM 3/4-Novemer 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I gave an invited plenary talk at the UKs main Atomic Force Microscopy conference, which has an international reach. Hosted by University of Sheffield (Prof Jamie Hobbs, Dr Alice Pyne, Physics) the conference was delayed from the summer, and eventually took place online. The invite came pre-lockdown.

Dr Simon Connell
University of Leeds


Dr Simon Connell is an Associate Professor in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds. After graduating with a PhD in Biophysics in 1999, he joined Leeds in 2001, and since 2005 has managed a cross-faculty EPSRC supported AFM facility. He studies a wide range of systems, with a focus on the structure, dynamics and nanomechanics of soft matter and biological systems. His main research focus is on lipid membrane phase morphology and dynamics, but with the versatility of AFM comes the opportunity to study a diverse array of topics, and current research includes blood clot structure and mechanics, hydrogels and microgels, nanotribology, high speed imaging of polymer dynamics, nanomechanical vs temperature analysis of complex blends of materials in manufactured products and food, and particle adhesion and fragmentation of samples ranging from drug crystals to meteoroids.
Sessions

Invited: Quantifying Dynamics in High-Speed AFM Tuesday @ 1:05 PM
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.rms.org.uk/rms-event-calendar/2020-events/rms-afm-spm-meeting-2020.html
 
Description Advanced Materials Show and Ceramics UK, Telford, 9-11th July 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Stand to describe activity of the AFM Facility as part of the Bragg Centre for Advanced Materials Research , and advertise its capabilities and how to access it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://advancedmaterialsshow.com/
 
Description Borchers 26-4-19 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Associated with SOFI CDT, Visit to UoL from Borchers (Coatings, Additives, Catalysts) on 26th April 2019 for half day series of presentations, discussions and tour. Aim was to explore potential for new projects, and discuss solutions. Included academics from Durham and Edinburgh universities (also part of SOFI)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Feature in the Bragg Centre for Materials Research Annual Report for 2020/2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Featured in the Bragg Centre for Materials Research Annual Report for 2020/2021 as the Experimental Officer in AFM under ' Managing Our Facilities'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.leeds.ac.uk/bragg-centre-materials-research
 
Description Johnson Matthey, Sonning, Reading 22-10-19 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presnetations given during site visit to Johnson Matthey, Sonning, Describing expertise, capability of Leeds AFM Facility, and a sample of current research project. Aim was to generate new projects, and advertise latest state-of-the-art technology and expertise at the University of Leeds.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Nestle Away Day, University of Leeds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact An industry/academic workshop, giving presentations on expertise and capability on the part of the academics from various UoL faculties, and possible projects from the industry side, with the aim of developing ongoing projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Royce Institute Winter School 15th January 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A 3 day workshop on Advanced Materials Characterisation, organised by Royce Institute, University of Leeds. AFM Facility was a half day, on 21st January, including a 1.5 hour overview lecture (2 x 45 mins) followed by 2.5 hour hands-on lab demo, split into two groups and rotated, with Dr Simon Connell and Dr Lekshmi Kailas (funded on the AFM Facility grant). Dr Connell took the class through HIgh speed AFM and quantitative nanomechanical measurements, and Dr Kailas gave the goup a class in combined AFM -confocal fluoresence microscopy with Fluoresence Lifetime Imaging (FLIM). Group of approx 25 was composed mainly of PhD students from across UK.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.royce.ac.uk/events/materials-phd-winter-school/
 
Description visit to Harwell Central Laser Facility with PespsiCo International 24-7-19 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Exploratory meeting, sharing of ideas and expertise between Harwell and AFM Facility at Leeds, with view to progressing future funded projects with PepsiCo International.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019